I have never been fond of turkey, and the big bird must surely hold that against me. No matter how many recipes I study or fuss over to produce the perfect holiday turkey, just like my beloved grandma did every single Thanksgiving, I can’t achieve a moist, tender breast. And I do everything right: I pay top dollar for the finest, naturally raised turkeys, and despite that, a reputable company turned on me once. When I opened the box Thanksgiving morning, I didn’t have to remove the wrapper to see that my bird was Dolly Parton’s opposite: small breast, huge legs. I could hardly take it back, and talk about dried-out white meat. After that, I always looked at the bird hidden away inside the box before taking it to the checkout stand.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
To improve my odds this year, I called upon the butcher at New Frontiers and chef Jose Dahan of Et Voila in SLO to see what they had to say about roasting the perfect turkey. Tony Stears, a longtime resident and butcher in SLO County, believes you can’t go wrong with a premium turkey that’s free-range grown and hormone free. Although they’re offering high-quality turkeys from two companies, Diestel and Mary’s, he noted they’re equal in quality, and the latter brand is less expensive. I tried roasting a Mary’s free-range chicken recently, and it turned out excellent. If you hope to get one of these turkeys for your dinner table, you should order it the week ahead (like now). Wait and see if they have enough extras during the days before Thanksgiving, and you may not get one.
Stears likes the searing method of cooking an unstuffed turkey: “I had enough of soggy dressing while growing up,” he admitted. “I rub the turkey all over with olive oil, garlic powder, thyme, oregano, sea salt, and crushed black pepper, and sear it in a 450 F degree oven breast side down for 20 to 30 minutes. Then, I turn it breast side up, lower the heat to 275 to 300 F, and cook it about 30 minutes per pound.”
Turkey tips from New Frontiers suggest traditional roasting at 325 F and tenting the breast tightly with foil until about 45 minutes before it’s finished, then removing the foil so it can brown. The instructions note: “Resist the temptation to open the oven door. When the temperature fluctuates you increase the chance for dryness.” You’ll find turkey legs at New Frontiers for $3.79 a pound for the make-ahead turkey stock recipe.
Chef Dahan was born in France where he studied the culinary arts Old World style. That says volumes about his style of cooking, and why he’s beloved by the community. Although he no longer makes turkey dinners that locals can order in advance, he cooks the traditional American dinner at home.
“If I’m going to make a turkey, it’s really important to have a good quality bird and gravy,” said Dahan, who doesn’t approve of the old-fashioned, heavy gravy. “The best sauce is made from a good stock; just think about what it would do for the traditional gravy. Without all that fat, it will make it lighter and very flavorful. You can use an immersion blender at the end to make it even lighter and fluffier.” Dahan’s easy recipes will make cooking dinner a pleasure. Bon appetit!
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